Queensland police apologise for ‘open mind’ comments about murder of Hannah Clarke and children | Australia news

The Queensland police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, apologised on Friday for comments made by a senior detective while appealing for information into the deaths of a woman and her three children in Brisbane.

Detective Inspector Mark Thompson said police were keeping an “open mind” as to whether the deaths of Hannah Clarke and her children were a case of a “husband being driven too far by issues” or a woman and children suffering extreme domestic violence.

The comments were condemned as victim blaming by domestic violence campaigners including Betty Taylor from the Red Rose Foundation and Angela Lynch, the head of the Women’s Legal Service Queensland.

Carroll apologised on Friday, saying the phrasing was wrong and Thompson was gutted about the comments.

“He is distraught and he is gutted about the way he said it and what was said,” Carroll told the ABC. “He is a man who has protected the Queensland community all his life and has worked endless hours, and when he looks back he cannot believe the way he has phrased that.”

Clarke, 31, and her children, Laianah, 4, Aaliyah, 6, and Trey, 3, were killed when Baxter allegedly poured petrol on his family and set them alight at Camp Hill in Brisbane on Wednesday.

Baxter died on the footpath from self-inflicted wounds, police say.

The estranged couple had separated before Christmas last year, and members of both families have painted a picture of a violent and controlling relationship.

Clarke’s sister-in-law, Stacey Roberts, said her parents had “exhausted themselves” helping her “escape this monster”, and in messages obtained by the Courier-Mail, a family member of Rowan Baxter repeatedly reassured Clarke she’d done the right thing in leaving.

“I’m so glad I got out when I did,” Clarke wrote to the woman earlier this month. “I’m OK, struggling, but I know I’ve made the right decision.

“I’m safe, I’m with my parents who are very, very normal. I’m just so glad I got out when I did. And I’m so glad you reached out to me.”

On Thursday, Thompson confirmed domestic and family violence orders had been granted against Baxter, saying there had been “a number of engagements of police” between the couple.

“I can confirm Queensland police have engaged with both Hannah and her estranged husband in relation to domestic violence issues,” he said.

“We have also engaged with both of the parties in referring them to support services.

“When it comes to Hannah, we have dealt with her on a number of occasions and worked with the Brisbane Domestic Violence Centre in supporting Hannah throughout her family issues. And we’ve also referred Rowan Baxter to support services as well.”

But in comments that drew an immediate and angry response from domestic violence advocates, Thompson also said police would keep an “open mind” about Baxter’s motives and wanted to speak to people who knew both families.

“We need to look at every piece of information and to put it bluntly there are probably people out there in the community that are deciding which side, so to speak, to take in this investigation,” he said.

“Is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband, or is it an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues he’s suffered by certain circumstances into committing acts of this form?”

Renee Eaves, a victims’ advocate who has worked extensively with domestic abuse sufferers in their interactions with the Queensland police, said she could not believe the comments.

“This … is nothing short of a flashing billboard about the mindset by some police around domestic violence,” she said.

“This narrative is the most dangerous thing that exists for victims who doubt themselves after an attack that maybe they were partly responsible. Police seem to think women make up complaints or are complicit, and as a result they fail to protect them.

“If police are now implying that a murdered woman might be at fault, then that to me raises critical questions about whether they took the threat to her safety seriously enough.

“A calculated monster has killed a woman and her children in the most abhorrent way anyone could imagine. Even when the worst has occurred, they’re still questioning the woman, and still looking for reasons to justify this man’s behaviour.”

Angela Lynch, the chief executive of the Women’s Legal Service Queensland, said: “for police to be buying into that kind of rhetoric is very concerning.’’

“It’s giving legitimacy to what has occurred. It’s victim blaming. It’s saying that she might have caused this through her own actions. It plays into very dangerous ideas in the community around victim-blaming and a whole range of myths about the family law system.”

Lynch said police often say domestic violence cases as “tit for tat between two parties, rather than an abusive pattern of violence”.

Controversial media commentator and men’s rights campaigner Bettina Arndt on Friday congratulated Queensland police “for keeping an open mind and awaiting proper evidence, including the possibility that Rowan Baxter might have been ‘driven too far’.”

Bettina Arndt

Congratulations to the Queensland police for keeping an open mind and awaiting proper evidence, including the possibility that Rowan Baxter might have been “driven too far.” But note the misplaced outrage. How dare police deviate from the feminist script of seeking excuses…

February 20, 2020

In January, Arndt was made a Member of the Order of Australia, the third-highest rank in Australia’s civic honours system, drawing furious criticism from women’s groups.

Much of the criticism around the decision to honour Arndt centred around an interview she conducted with the Tasmanian man Nicolaas Bester, a convicted paedophile jailed for grooming and repeatedly raping his 15-year-old student when he was a 58-year-old.

Family violence campaigner and 2015 Australian of the year in 2015 Rosie Batty told Guardian Australia she found the decision to honour Arndt “very unhelpful”, a view she believed most people working towards gender equality would share.

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